I am a minimalist. So was Shawn. We both hated stuff, and made sure to clear out anything that wasn’t being used frequently. In fact, a friend came over the other day after I cleaned and jokingly asked, “what happened? Did you get robbed?” I laughed. Shawn would have been proud.
My kids know that I am likely to get rid of any and all clutter and they are pretty used to it, but they frequently worry that I might “lose” something of theirs. For example, the other day at a party, Claire came up to me, handed me something and started to run off. But then she paused, turned to me and said, “Mom, don’t throw it away. I know you always do that.”
Anyway, I had a free day yesterday and I decided it was time to do a thorough spring cleaning. I made a list of all of the things that I wanted to clean out: our kitchen drawers, my file cabinet, the back garage, and so on. I walked through the house to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. And then I realized that there was a glaring omission.
My closet. Cleaning it out has been on my to-do list forever. Of course, it’s not just my clothes that need to be combed through. There are also Shawn’s clothes in there.
To be fair, I cleaned out the majority of his clothes and other things in the first few weeks after he died. I made my friends clear out all the medicine and medical equipment, because I just couldn’t do that. I also got rid of a lot of extraneous things that just made me sad (like his eye mask and toothbrush.) Then, about a month after Shawn died, my sister came and we cleaned out many of his clothes. I had a breakdown part-way through that process, and I decided there were just some things I wasn’t ready to part with. So I kept an entire rack of hanging clothes and another two baskets of t-shirts and other things like that.
And that’s how it’s been for 15 months. His clothes hang in the closet like he might return at any moment and need a 90s-grunge-band t-shirt for a party in our backyard.
It gave me comfort to have his things. But it also made me feel a bit stuck. I couldn’t really reclaim the space with his stuff taking up a big chunk of the closet. So a few months ago I decided that I was going to clean out the closet. I was just waiting for a free afternoon.
But yesterday, when that time arrived, I stalled. I cleaned out every single drawer I could find in the kitchen and I reorganized the shoes on the back porch. I knew I was ready to clean out my closet and I knew I wanted to clean out my closet. But I also knew it was going to be really hard.
I went upstairs, and looked at Shawn’s clothes. And then I was crying – actually, I was falling-on-the-floor sobbing. I let myself just feel sad for a really, really long time.
God, I miss him. It’s been so long – 15 months – and yet I still have times when I miss Shawn with an intensity that surprises me. I thought, somehow, that these emotional breakdowns would ease as time passed, but now I’m realizing that I might be 10 years down the road, I might even be remarried to some handsome stranger, and I’ll STILL have moments when I miss Shawn as though I just lost him. I’ve heard this from other widows who are farther out than me. But it’s been surprising to experience it myself.
I guess that’s why cleaning out his things from my closet is just as difficult as it was over a year ago.
But I was determined to do it. I needed the space to be my own again.
I took a deep breath and scrolled through Spotify to find the best music to listen to. For some reason, I felt like Pearl Jam was the most appropriate. I set it to “shuffle” and headed to the closet.
The first song that played was “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.”
I almost quit right then.
The song took me back to 2002. Shawn and I had been dating for a few weeks, and he was playing in an ex-pat band in Japan. One night, they performed downtown in our small Japanese town. Shawn mostly played backup guitar, but that night he sang one song. It was “Elderly Woman.”
It was like I was right back there. Do you know what I remember about that night? That he sang the entire song to me. He looked at the strings of his guitar a little bit, but then he’d look right back at me as he kept singing.
I had never felt so loved. I’m not sure if he’d even told me that he loved me at that point, but I knew it then. I knew I loved him too.
Later that night, someone teased me, “Marjorie, I looked at your face when Shawn was singing. You really have it bad for him, don’t you?”
That memory – it felt like it was a million years ago. And it also felt like it was just yesterday.
I sat back down on the floor of the closet and thought about that night in Japan. I cried through the entire song and then I played it again. How is he gone? Yes, I miss the father of my children and I miss having someone around who was so smart. But really, what I miss is the way he looked at me in those moments, like the one back in Japan. Like the sun shot right out of me.
I let myself stay in that moment in Japan for a long time. But finally, I picked myself off of the ground and started taking things off of the hangers. One pile to donate, one pile to keep. I put a few of his t-shirts with mine, so I could wear them in moments when I needed them. But all the suits and coats and everything else went in one of the other piles.
I went to move his leather jacket and paused. I couldn’t do it. I bought that leather jacket for him years ago and he loved it – he wore it every single time we went out. And he looked hot in it.
So I left it there. It felt appropriate. Like he was there, with me, reminding me of what we once had.
But also letting me have a bit more space for myself.